Shares for digital entertainment giant Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) traded as high as $380 on March 31, 2020, short of its all time highs above $400 seen the summer of 2018, but resilient in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic as households remain at home and watch more TV and movies. In fact, so far Netflix has been one of the few companies in the S&P 500 to see its share price rise in March 2020, as global markets crashed.

If you had bought 1 share of NFLX at its IPO back in 2002 at $15 a share, you would have made $365 in profit, or 2,433%. If you had therefore purchased $100 of NFLX at its IPO, you'd now have $2,533!

Key Takeaways

  • While Netflix is now a household name, when it IPO'd in 2002 at $15 a share it was anything but a sure bet.
  • The company had hit some rough patches as it grew from a DVD-by-mail service to a behemoth of online streaming media by the late 2010s.
  • If you had bought $100 worth of NFLX stock when it IPO'd you'd now have nearly $2,500 in profit.

Rough Patches and Growing Pains

As remarkable as NFLX’s growth has been in recent months and years, the stock was actually considered a dud throughout much of its early trading history. The initial public offering (IPO) for Netflix occurred on May 23, 2002 at a price of $15.00 per share. By early 2004, it looked as though NFLX was a rising star, announcing a 2:1 stock split after share prices blew past $70 in February of that year. Unfortunately for NFLX, the stock subsequently sputtered for the next four-plus years.

By late November 2008, NFLX traded for less than $19.00 per share. You would have lost value up to that point if you had purchased the stock immediately after its February 2004 split.

The narrative would be completely different if you had purchased NFLX in 2009. Not only did Netflix stock appreciate magnificently faster starting in 2009 – indeed, the trend was quickly improving in December 2008 – but NFLX beat the returns of the S&P 500 by more than 1,750% between 2009 and the end of 2015.

Here’s the journey your Netflix holdings would have taken if you had purchased $100 after New Year’s Day 2009:

2009: Steady Growth After Netflix Shifts Focus

NFLX had an unadjusted market value of $29.89 per share on January 1, 2009. If your order managed to get filled as soon as trading began on January 2, your $100 order would have purchased 3.346 shares of NFLX, assuming zero trading costs.

During 2009, Netflix made some pivotal moves to transform its outlook. It partnered with Sony (NYSE: SNE) and other consumer electronics manufacturers to stream its product over the PS3, smart TVs and other devices. This signified a shift in the company's focus from DVD delivery to on-demand content.

Shareholders responded to the company’s new direction. NFLX hit its 2009 peak during November, barely edging past $60 per share before a minor selloff. Though your shares’ growth would never have reached a fevered pitch during that first year, you’d see your NFLX portfolio grow to hit $184.33 by December 31, 2010. 

2010 to July 2011: NFLX Finds Hope

NFLX’s first explosive year came in 2010. The company's commitment to expanding its reach by providing its content through various electronic devices was delivering, and shares were already trading past $100 by April. This means your original 3.346 shares had a market value of nearly $340. Basic arithmetic would should you’d have already seen an incredible 340% growth on your investment.

In addition to partnering with Sony to stream over the PS3, in 2010 Netflix became available on gaming consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and on an array of Apple (NASDAQ: APPL) products, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Netflix later set its sights on international markets, offering services in Canada for the first time and reaching out to markets in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With few exceptions, Netflix stock performed like a superstar throughout the year. At the end of 2010, NFLX closed just over $175 per share. By mid-February 2011, NFLX hit $247.55 per share – your holdings would reach– over $825 for you, a more than eight-fold increase on your initial $100 investment in just two-and-a-half years.

Mid-2011 to 2012: Panic and No Growth

Netflix made an ill-advised price hike in the second half of 2011, losing approximately 800,000 subscribers during the third quarter alone. Investors panicked after hearing about the subscriber exodus; NFLX shed 75% of its value by November. At $63.86 per share, your investment was now worth $213.67.

Netflix spent the remainder of 2011 and most of 2012 without any real increase in market capitalization. Other than a momentary spike in early 2012, NFLX traded below $100 and even reached a multi-year low of $53.87 August 2, 2012. At $53.87 your portfolio was under $190 and had lost more than $600 in a year.

Fortunes picked up in September 2012 and the stock rallied for the remainder of the year. On December 31, 2012, NFLX closed at $92.59 – $309.81 for your 3.346 shares. 

2013 and Beyond: Rocket Fuel, Burnout, Second Wind

By the beginning of 2013, Netflix had become the comeback story of the year. The first three weeks were unexceptional, with shares trading around $99 on January 22, 2013. Within a two-day period, however, Netflix climbed 42% and closed above $140. The stock would only gain steam from there. 

CNN Money published an exacerbated article after the climb, wherein it wrote that NFLX “shocked the investing world” and blamed short-sellers for the sudden climb. It helped that Netflix announced new content deals with Disney (NYSE: DIS) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) in the prior quarter. Netflix was positioned to capitalize on the rapidly growing trend toward on-demand streaming, beating out established competitors in the space while dumping its mail-in DVD system.

NFLX closed at $354.99 on October 21, 2013. If you’d held on to your shares through the prior turbulence, they would have been worth $1,187.79. The value would have been slightly lower by the end of the year, giving way for an up-and-down 2014.

NFLX prices in 2014 were similar to those in 2012. Prices oscillated between $314.21 and $484.39, witnessing two major upswings and suffering two subsequent corrections. On December 31, 2014, NFLX was at $341.61 and your stake would have been worth $1,143.08.

NFLX opened on January 20, 2015, at $340 flat, but an earnings report was published that showed Netflix delivered at three times the consensus estimates. Investors sprinted in, pushing NFLX to $409.28 by the end of the January 21. By January 27, 2015, share prices were above $450. April 16 saw another huge jump that established a new record price of $562.05. By then your 3.346 shares would be worth $1,880.61.

Share prices kept reaching new heights through the following months. On July 13, 2015, Netflix stock hit $707.61 – raising your stake to $2,367.66. On July 13, 2015, Netflix announced a 7:1 split, becoming just the second stock ever to be split at this ratio (Apple was the first). Investors rejoiced because their shares suddenly seemed more liquid. At this point, your 3.346 shares would have become 23.422 shares.

On November 30, 2015, Netflix shares were trading as high as $126.60. Since you own seven times as many shares as before, your portfolio reaches an all-time high market value of $2,965.23, representing approximately 3,000% growth. Unfortunately, NFLX hit another slump following the late November peak. 

Shares fell significantly in January 2016. NFLX closed at $82.79 on February 5 before rebounding to $91.61 on February 24. At this point, your stake sat more than $800 below its all-time high. However, your portfolio still grew from $100 to more than $2,145 in just seven years. From 2017 onward, the share price rose to above $400 and remained mainly a trading range between $300-$400 for most of 2018-2020.